On April 4 several University of Utah students gathered on the stairway overlooking the Student Union’s patio to observe an event designed to draw attention to the silencing and oppression of gay and transgender people.
The event is called the Day of Silence and was started in 1996 by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, a group dedicated to ending bullying and violence in America’s schools. Although the day will be held on April 25 this year, the U observed it early because the semester ends April 23.
The students wore tape over their mouths to symbolize their silence. When assembled, they removed the tape, shouted and waved noisemakers to indicate the end of their silence.
Some students addressed onlookers below, including several members of the school’s Queer Student Union, about the effect anti-gay violence has had on their lives and on the lives of other youth. Their speeches included the reading of original poems and recitations from The Laramie Project (a play about slain gay student Matthew Shepherd whose death made headlines in 1998) as well as speeches.
LGBT resource center intern Bonnie Owens said that while physical violence against gay and transgender people is often easy to see, non-physical violence is just as bad.
“It’s not easy to see the legislative violence and political violence that goes on each day,” she said.
To illustrate her point, Owens read from a mass email sent by the conservative group American Family Association to several Utah schools – an email that called the Day of Silence “a one-sided campaign” to indoctrinate children into accepting homosexuality.
Owens also mentioned that schools in the Provo District will not be participating in the Day of Silence because the event might “disrupt” classes.
Provo District Assistant Superintendent Ray W. Morgan previously told the Deseret Morning News: “Our purpose is education. Anything that disrupts learning and instruction would not be supported by our school district.”
Owens said, rather, that the day would add to the learning environment and encourage dialogue and respect.
The U’s observation of the Day of Silence came at the end of its Allies Week, five days of events designed to educate the school’s community about gay rights and to let straight students, faculty and staff know how they can be supportive of gay and transgender students.
This year’s Day of Silence will be held in honor of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old California who was murdered by a male classmate in February. King had reportedly asked the student to be his Valentine.